Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Most of the major comic book properties are owned by Warner Bros. or Disney. However, that has not been the case for long, so there are some well-known ones that other film studios have the rights to. Due to a very complicated deal a few years ago, Disney/Marvel Studios can use Spiderman in the MCU. Meanwhile, Sony still has the ability to produce films using characters from the Spiderman comics, except for Peter Parker (I think; to be honest, this whole thing is really confusing to me). Since superheroes are such huge business these days, it was only a matter of time before they tried to make a Spiderman expanded universe movie. Thus we get Venom (92 minutes plus a mid and post-credits scene), a solo story starring one of his more popular villains.
The buzz surrounding it was very poor. While I will not go to bat for it, it is such a bizarre, Frankenstein’s Monster-like combination of genres that, though it is undoubtedly a complete and total mess, it is at least an interesting one. It may be a disaster, but it is not dull.
Tom Hardy is Eddie Brock, a journalist who becomes inhabited by the alien symbiote known as Venom. Most of the story is centered on their relationship and the effect Venom has on Eddie’s body. There are also subplots about an evil businessman and the woman Eddie loves, but the movie is mainly interested in the havoc caused by the title creature.
When I call Venom a combination of genres, I am being slightly misleading. They sit uncomfortably next to each other far more than they blend together. The scenes with Eddie and Venom, concerning a guy trying to control the man-eating monster inside of him, tilt toward horror. The parts focusing on the conspiracy at the Life Foundation (featuring Riz Ahmed as a stereotypical megalomaniacal villain) is comic-book action. And the subplot about his estranged love (a wasted Michelle Williams) feels like dark romantic comedy. Director Ruben Fleischer and his four screenwriters never figured out how to make these elements coexist in the same story. It is like an anthology, except every piece is supposed to be in service of a single plot.
Added on top of that is the strange performance given by Tom Hardy in the lead. All of his choices seem out of place, from his line readings to his walk to the way he looks at his costars during dialogue scenes. It is like he was making a totally different movie from everybody else. He has made it clear recently that he is not a fan of the final cut of Venom, however I do not think his performance is an act of mockery. Based on things he has said in the past, it sounds as though he sees a lot of potential in this concept. I think he decided to try something and, in part because the rest of the production is such a mess, it comes off as parody. I have no idea what he was going for, but I gave up trying to figure it out approximately a quarter of the way through and just started having fun watching him act weird.
Back to Hardy’s complaints about the final edit. I do not know what his specific issue is. What I can tell you is Venom appears to be a good example of a movie trimmed to get a PG-13 rating to its detriment. For starters, the major creature violence takes place off-screen. It is obvious Venom is killing people, yet the destruction he causes is strangely bloodless. My best guess is, at some point during the filmmaking process, his actions were more explicit. It is the same thing with the language. There is quite a bit of swearing, but no f-words and not enough to convince the MPAA to give it an R. All of this makes the experience of watching it awkward.
Then, as is often the case in something heavily tinkered with in post, the explanation for at least one important plot point is completely missing. The first couple of steps are there and then it skips ahead to step five. Suffice it to say, I was very confused. That is fitting since pretty much everything about this production is baffling.
I understand the reactions to this calling it among the worst of the year. It probably is. I am not usually someone who enjoys bad movies. “So bad it’s good” is a foreign concept to me. That being said, I know Venom is terrible, but it is so poorly conceived, with so many ill-fitting pieces, that I could not help being entertained by the sheer wrongheadedness of the entire thing. The fact anyone in a position of power thought this version was ready to be seen by general audiences is nearly enough for me to recommend it. Venom is for fans of crappy movies, Venom completists and those who want to see Tom Hardy give one of the oddest performances in a mainstream release this side of Nicolas Cage. But be warned: it is really, really bad.
1½ out of 5
Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock
Michelle Williams as Anne Weying
Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake
Reid Scott as Dr. Dan Lewis
Scott Haze as Security Chief Roland Treece
Jenny Slate as Dr. Dora Skirth
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Screenplay by Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner, Kelly Marcel and Will Beall